Social Scientist. v 13, no. 142 (March 1985) p. 3.


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AMIYA KUMAR BAGCHI*

The Ambiguity of Progress: Indian Society in Transition

MOST INDIANS have practised settled agriculture for several millenia, and engaged for centuries in the making of tools and objects of everyday use. There have been towns in India for at least four thousand years and a written language for probably a longer period. Over a major part of the subcontinent, developed state systems have been in existence ^for more than two thousand years again. With all these signs of what is called civilization as their heritage, the majority of Indians still drag on an existence which can only be called 'nasty, brutish and short'.

Thousands of writers (and doubtless, even more numerous non-writers) have sought to provide an explanation for this paradox. For imperial lawgivers and administrators, the paradox itself provided a justification for the alien rule and implementing measures to consolidate and strengthen that rule. For other observers from the West, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the paradox was an object of curiosity, if also sometimes of disgust. The intellectual construct (or rather non-construct, since it was really a sign of refusal to engage in serious thinking) called the Changeless East was the product of such an attitude.

We are not going to confront this attitude in this paper because it is going to divert us from our main theme, namely, the difficulty of reading the signs of progress in a society like ours. Let me only point out here that unfortunately for everybody, Indians still remain the kin of the majority of mankind in their misery. The poverty and the daily insult to human dignity suffered by us are shared by the majority of the people in Latin America, Africa, and even the oil-rich Arab countries. That fact should at least warn us against accepting any explanation of our condition in terms of something quite unique in the Indian psyche, the Indian social system or the Indian cultural tradition. Both in our dignity and our degradation we share too much with most of mankind.

The mocking intellectual and the rationalizers of the current social order find it easy to construct histories without any change. But even those people who want a decisive social revolution to occur in India but get tired of documenting and tracing the stories of man's inhumanity to man (or woman)

* Professor, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta



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